Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 8, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 309-310: May 8, 2018

Episode 309 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 8, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 8, 2018 at 5:30pm. Main topics: FY2019 Cambridge Budget hearings, Curbside Compost Program, and related matters. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 310 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 8, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 8, 2018 at 6:00pm. Main topics: May 7 City Council meeting, parking issues, updates around town. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 4, 2018

On the Agenda – March 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:08 pm

On the Agenda – March 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here are the things sure to get a rise out of at least someone:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine why there continues to be significant audio and video difficulties during live internet broadcasts of City Council meetings, how these difficulties can be resolved. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]

I have no idea what this was delayed or even debated last week. These live webcasts as well as the Cable TV broadcasts have always had problems no matter how many times they have been "fixed". That said, I’m not so sure that the best solution would be to host official proceedings on YouTube.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]

There are places where this makes sense and other places where it would be a pointless restriction. It makes a lot of sense in our pedestrian intensive major Squares and a few other places but, like the boy who cried "wolf", if you overplay your hand you run the risk of the restriction being generally ignored.

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons.]

Carlone Smashes Capitalism!Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk, Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Carlone, submitting draft language on "AN ACT TO PRESERVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE THROUGH A TENANT’S RIGHT TO PURCHASE".

This is the most incorrectly titled piece of legislation I have seen in a long time. It should more properly be titled "AN ACT TO EXPAND EMINENT DOMAIN AUTHORITY TO INCLUDE ALL RENTAL PROPERTY AT TIME OF SALE". Any city councillor who supports this as written doesn’t deserve to ever be reelected. The same goes for any member of the state legislature who supports the proposed home rule legislation.

When you read through the details of this proposal it becomes clear that the most likely outcome will be that the "right of first refusal" will be directed to the City or one of its agents – especially in certain neighborhoods targeted for this treatment, and slowly but surely more and more rental properties will no longer be privately owned. If our elected officials actually want to do something useful, they should devise ways to encourage multi-family ownership by small landlords. This would do a lot to support housing affordability for middle-class residents and their tenants. This was the primary method of middle-class housing affordability in Cambridge for the last century.

Update: I was very pleased to see Carlone’s pilfered Somerville proposal soundly defeated on a 2-7 vote with only Carlone and Zondervan in favor. Carlone, in particular, should reconsider his practice of using ghost writers for legislative proposals. The original order to have the City Solicitor draft the language also died on a 3-6 vote with Siddiqui joining these two on this misguided proposal.

Apparently (according to Zondervan) both Boston and Somerville are pushing this same approach to move as much privately owned rental property as possible into public ownership, and he was "embarrassed" that Cambridge would not be joining them. It doesn’t surprise me that the Revolutionary Guard in Somerville (a.k.a. the current Board of Alderman) is pushing this. After all, revolutionaries tend to lose their credibility when not smashing capitalism or overthrowing something. I have to wonder if Boston is actually in favor of this. There are a lot of two-family and three-family buildings in Boston and a lot of owner-occupant small landlords who will not be pleased at this taking.

Resolution #1. Resolution on the closing of Ryles Jazz Club.   Councillor Toomey

When I first moved to Cambridge 40 years ago the first building I was ever in was a gymnasium at the corner of Harvard and Prospect Streets (now and office building) to play frisbee in February, and the second building was Ryles for beers afterwards. I hope that a similar use can continue in that space.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of William "Bill" Noble.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

There was an obituary in the Feb 26, 2018 Boston Globe for Bill Noble – longtime tenant activist and one of the central figures at Cambridge City Council meetings during the rent control years in Cambridge. Present at most City Council meetings during many of those years were Michael Turk, Connie Thibaut, and Bill Noble from the Cambridge Tenants Union (CTU). There was a time when public comment at meetings happened whenever in the meeting a particular agenda item came up, so it was often necessary to stay through the end of the meeting if you wished to give public comment. The mainstays of the CTU were often there for the whole meeting. Some of the other regulars are quoted in the obituary. Bill Noble was also actively involved with the Riverside-Cambridgeport Community Corporation (RCCC – though everyone called it "R Triple C").

It was an interesting coincident that the obituary for Bill Noble was published the same day that many of the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA) from way back when were at the City Council meeting opposing what they see as a back-door attempt to impose similar controls on property that they successfully opposed nearly 25 years ago. It was almost like a virtual reunion – and a reminder of how Cambridge used to be an ongoing political war zone.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to apply on behalf of the City of Cambridge for the Housing Choice Designation before the Apr 30, 2018 deadline.   Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon

At last week’s City Council meeting, City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement in the everlasting quest to build a new bridge over the railroad tracks west of the Alewife Brook Parkway that would connect the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle, but he gave no specifics. Everybody was intrigued about what he was driving at. [By the way, the only people who call it "The Quad" are people who attended prep school.]

I heard of one possible mechanism through which funding might be derived to build this bridge. The Governor recently created the "Housing Choice Initiative" which allows communities to apply to the state to be recognized and designated as a "Housing Choice Community." To qualify, you have to either show that you’ve produced a certain rate of new units or adopted certain best practices. Cambridge would be in that top tier for housing produced and would qualify. Communities that qualify would get an advantage in applying for discretionary state funding and exclusive access to a new capital fund called the "Local Capital Projects Fund", which will be funded by casino revenue. More information is available at: https://www.mass.gov/housing-choice-initiative

Wouldn’t it be great if a by-product of Cambridge encouraging new housing (rather than trying to block it) was a community benefit like this bridge, hopefully built in conjunction with a new commuter rail stop to support the new housing and jobs?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, Attorney General and District Attorney to investigate the possibility of Cambridge joining this national suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Mallon

The Order sounds good, but I was intrigued by the fact that it has six co-sponsors. I think this is great, but I expect some ne’er-do-well will claim it’s an open meeting law violation. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development, the Director of Communications and Community Relations, or any other relevant City department with the view in mind of producing a document that can be presented at the City Council Housing Committee to provide a better perspective on the City’s current efforts to address the housing issues facing Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

Perhaps Councillor Carlone can just ask the Somerville Board of Alderman to send the information.

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide the City Council with an Inman Square Reconstruction Project Timeline.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley

This project is based on established Listen Zero principles, but I suppose the planners can at least pass on a calendar of non-negotiables.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City’s plans for incorporating dock-less bikes into its urban mobility opportunities, to include licensing, contractual and liability issues; and that said report be transmitted to the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing on the issue of a dock-less bikeshare system.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui

I had no idea that the City had any such plans but, then again, according to established Listen Zero principles, it’s essential to push things like this through with as little discussion as possible.

Order #8. That the City Council, City Manager, and City Staff are requested to work as quickly as possible to enact the necessary laws and regulations, including zoning and licensing of retail cannabis establishments, in order to implement the state law in a manner that addresses the racial and economic injustices of the past.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

The gist of this Order is that anyone who is less than enthusiastic about the proliferation of marijuana (oh, excuse me – cannabis) is refusing to address the "racial and economic injustices of the past". The sponsors are intent on "ensuring equitable enforcement and reasonable availability of cannabis throughout the city." Well, I guess we all have our priorities. – Robert Winters

February 13, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 291-292: Feb 13, 2018

Episode 291 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 13, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 13, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Feb 12 City Council highlights – bike lanes, Inman Square redesign, Vision Zero, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 292 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 13, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 13, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Cambridge Historical Commission landmark designation reports, fate of the “Tenant Right of First Refusal” bill, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

February 11, 2018

Rhetorical Conflict – Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:46 pm

Rhetorical Conflict – Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

BicycleThe battle for turf in the Rhetorical War continues this week with troops massing at the borders over the meaning of Vision Zero and Safe Streets. Continents could be sinking and frogs raining from the sky, but we’ll once again get to witness the turf war over allocation of space on Cambridge roads (and sidewalks). Word has it that the Boston Cyclists Union has already rung the alarm and asked all troops to report for duty in the Sullivan Chamber on Monday to argue against "safe streets for all" if that might translate into giving up an inch of sand on the beachhead of segregated bike lanes. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the City hosting a Big Press Conference this past week announcing its Vision Zero Plan – basically reducing the speed limit to 20mph in the major Squares (a good thing) and creating a rhetorical framework to hush up anyone who questions future road reconfigurations. After all, you know, Vision Zero. If you don’t like flexi-posts or traffic congestion or if you raise issues about road conditions in winter and safety considerations at intersections, surely you must be against traffic calming and in support of danger. Public Comment on Monday promises to be great (that is to say – bad) theater with about a 30 year age difference in opposing sides in the battle over the definition of safety.

Frankly, I’d rather talk about public transportation, but that would have far less drama. I was also unable to witness the presentation last week on the Battle of Inman Square that pitted tree huggers vs. bicycle segregationists (which actually pitted some people against themselves) in the elusive redesign of this crossroads.

Here’s the menu of my personal favorite dishes being served up at this gathering:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Lechmere National Bank building at 225/227 Cambridge Street.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages located at 40 and 44 Cottage Street.

Communications #3-10,12-17. Fourteen letters opposing historical landmark designation of 40 Cottage Street.

We are blessed with our most excellent Historical Commission who generate landmark designation reports (and other publications) that are incredibly good. These two reports are no exception. In a city with so many significant historic buildings it’s not surprising that the Historical Commission is recommending landmark status in both of these reports. What makes this noteworthy are the communications – many of which were generated from the same template. Some of them even make reference to the "weaponization of the Historical Commission landmark study and designation process". Personally, I hope the homeowners of 40 Cottage Street will be allowed to renovate their home to the highest energy efficiency standards while maintaining as much historical integrity as possible. That said, either your building is landmark-worthy or it’s not, and I’d say the report strongly suggests that this one is. It’s true that various legal processes are routinely used in Cambridge to stall or block projects, but I guess it apparently does matter whose ox is gored. If you know the right people then it’s called "weaponization", and otherwise it’s called "neighborhood preservation". In any case, it will be good to hear more about how the Historical Commission balances preservation vs. modernization in a time when energy conservation and sustainability are prioritized.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Sustainable Materials Recovery grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the amount of $38,800 to the Grant Fund Department of Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance Account which will be used toward the purchase of food waste collection bins for the citywide curbside organics program.

The starting date is now less than two months away. Speaking as the man formerly known as "Compost Man", I’m eager to see how this plays out and what problems arise as this service is rolled out citywide. I’m also mindful of the fact that this is just as much a rediscovery of former best practices as it is of innovative new practices.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-111, regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways.

In short, the report doesn’t endorse using art to calm traffic. We had a good way of handling this when I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York. We painted bases and baselines on the street and played stickball. The message to drivers was abundantly clear and there was never an altercation. We would also chant "Car Car C-A-R" when a car was coming. Other streets had hockey goals in the street that had to be moved to allow cars to pass, but nobody ever complained. We never called these "neighborways." We just called them streets.

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-01, regarding a report on possibility of a supermarket opening at 20 Sidney Street.

Perhaps nothing will come of this, but at least there’s this: "Community Development Department (CDD) staff have reached out to real estate representatives at several grocery chains, including Market Basket, Aldi, Trader Joes, and bFresh to inform them about the opportunity and connect them to Forest City. Several grocery store representatives mentioned that they do not have plans to expand at this time, or that the space is too small for their traditional size requirements. Regardless, CDD staff has relayed the grocery store chains contact information to Forest City staff. Staff will continue to explore options and communicate with Forest City about possible tenants.” In my view Aldi is the one that might work best at this site, but only if the rental agreement makes it economically feasible.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Public Health Department regarding the current status of zoning language and public health regulations for the keeping of hens and food cultivation and proposed next steps to advance the Urban Agriculture initiative.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

Perhaps we can just dispense with the supermarkets and just buy our milk and eggs from Farmer Jones down the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works to report back to the Council on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance, including implementation, enforcement, and remaining concerns among the business community.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

When I was on the Recycling Advisory Committee (22 years, I believe) I often learned how some initiatives that were very appealing were actually counterproductive or, at best, a break-even proposition. For example, a "paper" drink cup is still lined with plastic, and when you take away the paper there is still a significant amount of plastic – perhaps more than in a "Styrofoam" cup. This Order asserts that expanded polystyrene (EPS), a.k.a. "Styrofoam", has been shown to leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages, but most reliable sources dispute that or note that any potential hazard is negligible. The real problem is that it’s difficult to recycle economically and it doesn’t really biodegrade.

Regarding the ban of plastic bags, except for the fact that the plastic gets caught in the machinery at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the environmental benefits of paper bags over plastic bags is not a slam dunk. Reusable bags, on the other hand, win the argument easily. That’s why the Cambridge ordinance is best referred to as the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Ordinance rather than as a plastic bag ban (which it isn’t).

The jury is still out regarding the polystyrene ban. Some places now provide "compostable" plasticware, but recyclers aren’t keen on it because it doesn’t really biodegrade along with other organics except under very specialized conditions. Also, biodegradable plastic is often hard to distinguish from other plastic and this compromises the recyclability of all plastics. I suppose none of these details matter to city councillors as long as it makes them appear "environmental". I am, of course, interested to hear what DPW has to say about how the polystyrene ban has fared.

Order #4. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to establish a new working group consisting of a diverse set of stakeholders, including cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, small business owners, EMS/first responders, and City Officials to discuss the results of the protected bike lane pilot using clear evaluation criteria, and how best to construct a cohesive network in the future.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Mayor McGovern

This is simply the fulfillment of the Jan 25, 2017 memo from Iram Farooq (CDD), Owen O’Riordan (DPW), and Joseph E. Barr (Traffic). That memo states in regard to the Cambridge St. reconfiguration:

Evaluation Process
A critical part of the process will be evaluation of this corridor, both to make adjustments for future installations and to help stakeholders understand how this demonstration project is working. To provide adequate time for users to adjust to the changes, we expect the demonstration to last at least six months, after which we will make decisions about whether to retain the demonstration as a permanent improvement and whether any changes or tweaks are required based on the performance during the demonstration period.

While the exact details of the evaluation are still being determined and will be discussed as part of the community process, we expect to look at the following data both before and after implementation:

  • Parking use: occupancy and availability along both the main corridor and the adjacent side streets
  • Traffic volumes: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Transit performance: stop dwell time, travel time, and ridership
  • Traffic compliance with parking and lane use: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Speed
  • Crashes (acknowledging that it can be difficult to draw conclusions based on a limited period of time)
  • Ability to maintain bike path, in winter and for street cleaning.
  • Retail access: customer mode share survey
  • Retail success: sales tax receipts (if available) or other data

In other words, there was always supposed to be a evaluation of this Separated Bicycle Lane Demonstration. It’s interesting that at least one city councillor seems unable to grasp this in saying, "The protected lanes are here to stay and this order may suggest to some they are not." There is little question that enhanced bicycle (and pedestrian and motor vehicle) safety is the rule of the day (because, you know, Vision Zero), but the question remains how best to achieve this. Furthermore, saying that an evaluation will be "data driven" is insufficient. For example, banning all motor vehicles would surely produce data showing a reduction in motor vehicle crashes, but that would not imply that the ban was good policy or that a better solution was not possible.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to create additional opportunities for the community to evaluate and understand the plan to redesign Inman Square and to provide input, including: walk-in clinics between now and the next community meeting and making more details available online including alternative designs considered but deemed unworkable, traffic simulations, and other relevant data or information.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Perhaps nobody wants to hear this but there really are currently two feasible options available for Inman Square. One is the "current plan" to wipe out the trees in Vellucci Park, relocate some of that space to the north side, and move all bicyclists onto the sidewalks. The other is to keep Inman Square more or less as it is with its newly painted green stripes for bicycles and maybe with some tweaking of the signals, lane markings, and pedestrian phases. Do we have any safety data on how the intersection is working since the "temporary" changes were made last year?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report on progress and efforts made to date to provide greater access to internet services citywide for low income residents.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

Translation: Some advocates want municipal broadband whether or not there is the demonstrated need or demand, and the fact that Cambridge has a significant "free cash" position will be perpetually used to justify any required expenditures. I also wonder sometimes what fraction of people nowadays use only their phone to access anything online (and to, of course, post silly pictures).

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Jan 24, 2018 to discuss the Zoning Petition filed by Peter Kroon, et al, to amend Section 20.50 of the Zoning Ordinance in the " Harvard Square Overlay District" dated Sept 28, 2017.

This might win the all-time award for longest committee meeting leading nowhere. At least we now know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

May 18, 2017

INMAN EATS! 2017 – An Inman Square Festival: Sunday, May 21

Filed under: Cambridge,Inman Square — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 3:00 pm

INMAN EATS! 2017 – An Inman Square Festival

East Cambridge Business AssociationThe East Cambridge Business Association (ECBA) is proud to present Inman Eats! 2017, on Sunday May 21, 2017 from 12:00 noon – 4:00pm. The Inman Eats! Festival will take place on Cambridge Street in Inman Square, between Springfield Street and Prospect Street.

Inman Eats 2017Inman Eats! is a celebration of everything Inman Square. From our eclectic retail to our artistic venues, from our casual eats to our culinary treats, Inman Eats! hopes to deliver a full Inman Square experience to new visitors and residents alike.

Inman Square shops and restaurants will be open for business as usual, but to experience Inman Eats! you will need to purchase Inman Bucks. Inman Bucks are your ticket to try the samplings being offered by Restaurant vendors taking part in the event. Inman Bucks can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite or www.EastCambridgeBA.com and are on sale now. Inman Bucks are limited so advanced purchase is recommended. Inman Bucks will be for sale day of the event based on availability.

Inman Eats! is open to all that want to experience Inman’s many delights. Come listen to local bands, try some local beer, and enjoy tasty food from the best restaurants in town!

Live music programed by Lily Pad featuring The Gill Aharon Trio, Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club, and Los Chincharillos. The family will enjoy crafting activities with Gather Here, and interactive family activities and abstract face painting by Practice Space. Get your Inman Square T-Shirts at the live screen printing tent by QRST’s. Enjoy local brews from Lamplighter, Cambridge Brewing Co., and Bantam Cider.

The growing list of participating restaurants include 1369 Coffee House, Atwood’s Tavern, Beauties Pizza, BISq/Bergamot, Bukowski’s, The Druid, East Coast Grill, Hops & Scotch, Lone Star Taco Bar, Ole Mexican Grill, Puritan & Co, The Rising, S&S Restaurant, and Tupelo.

Inman Eats! is a perfect opportunity to get a taste of the local fare in and near East Cambridge and Inman Square and is produced by The East Cambridge Business Association and sponsored by Cambridge Savings Bank, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Commonwealth Alternative Care, East Cambridge Savings Bank, Cambridgeside Galleria, Geek Offices, and Rich KBE King School Joint Venture, Spencer Austin Consulting.

The mission of the East Cambridge Business Association is to promote and maintain sustainable commerce in East Cambridge and Inman Square; to be a single voice for its members; to promote activities that bond East Cambridge and Inman Square businesses with their neighborhood; to preserve the historical integrity and importance of East Cambridge and Inman Square; and to promote an active stewardship of our neighborhood. We believe that by working together with the community and by working toward improving our businesses we can make East Cambridge and Inman Square a better place to live and work.

Visit www.EastCambridgeBA.com or contact Jason Alves by email baecamb@gmail.com for further details.

December 1, 2016

A Peanut in Inman Square?

Inman Square is a difficult, pre-automotive, cramped, often congested, diagonal intersection. Thoroughgoing safety and traffic-flow improvements are not possible, short of tearing down buildings to create more travel space, or an expensive grade separation.

Anne Lusk, Visiting Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and a relentless advocate for on-street barrier-separated bikeways, has promoted a proposal for a “peanut roundabout” as a solution to the problems with Inman Square.

A grade separation was built long ago, farther west where Cambridge street runs between Harvard buildings. Though Lusk works at Harvard University, Inman Square does not adjoin the campus, and the political and financial resources of the University evidently don’t come to bear on the Square’s problems.

A Web page from the Boston Cyclists Union describes the “peanut roundabout” concept which Lusk is promoting for Inman Square. Here’s a conceptual drawing from the Web page:

"Peanut Roundabout" concept for Inman Square

“Peanut Roundabout” concept for Inman Square

I do think that the peanut roundabout concept is clever in itself. By eliminating traffic signals, this design might improve traffic flow.

— except for problems for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In the conceptual drawing on the page, to continue across the square in the same direction, bicyclists are directed to follow a circuitous route on separated bikeways, subject to right-hook risks, and turn sharply left after waiting at locations where they would block other bicyclists bearing right. There is no waiting area other than the narrow bikeway in which the bicyclists approach. The page describes the crossings as “European-style protected crossings” — but they aren’t. Strictly speaking, in traffic engineering, “protected” means that conflicting movements are prevented by traffic signals. No traffic signals are shown in the conceptual drawing. Four of the six crosswalks are raised, and these would slow motorists, but there are no waiting areas that would make it clear whether bicyclists will be turning across motor traffic or proceeding straight.

All in all, I cannot imagine how this concept would work for bicyclists or pedestrians without traffic signals for the crosswalks. Signals, though, would result in more motorists in the roundabout blocking other motorists’ travel in the roundabout. The conceptual drawing avoids raising this issue. Few vehicles are shown in the roundabout, inconsistent with the many in the connecting streets.

The conceptual drawing shows door-zone bike lanes leading to and from Inman Square at every approach. Earlier this year, cyclist Amanda Phillips was killed when the opening door of a parked vehicle flung her under a truck — the incident which led to calls for redesign of the Square. She was, however, not in the Square: she was had left the Square. (Identification of the crash location) It has been reported that she was exiting the sidewalk just before she was doored — so, she came from behind the vehicle whose door opened in front of her. What lessons from this crash have informed the proposed peanut design? Apparently none. The bike lanes shown at exits from the Square place bicyclists in the same hazardous situation as Phillips: emerging from behind parked vehicles, rather than where they might be visible with a driver’s-side mirror or a glance over the shoulder.

The page claims that “[s]uch a design could radically improve traffic flows, safety, and the community fabric of crash-prone Inman Square.” It would be useful in evaluating proposals, and claims like these, to have  a traffic capacity and flow analysis, and a crash study.  Instead, on the Web page, there is a list of claimed advantages, with no mention of potential problems and no analysis.

My overall impression of this design as a bicyclist, in addition to the concerns about safety, is that while it might increase appeal to bicyclists who are fearful of riding in mixed traffic, delays will be such that bicyclists who want to get where they are going will ride in the motor traffic. And let’s hope that they understand that safety would require them to ride in line with the motor traffic rather than keeping out of its way, as the designated routes strongly imply to be the key to safety.

The City of Cambridge has put forward two other proposals. A  “bend Cambridge Street” proposal is shown in the image below. Traffic on Hampshire Street would travel straight through, and traffic on Cambridge Street would zigzag. A similar “bend Hampshire Street” proposal is more or less a mirror image of this one. These proposals are similar to what has been done with Union Square in Somerville and at Lafayette Square (the intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue) in Cambridge.

City of Cambridge "bend Cambridge Street" proposal

City of Cambridge “bend Cambridge Street” proposal

The “bend” proposals include traffic signals and require bicyclists and motorists to make left turns. I do think, however, that the blue space in the “bend Cambridge Street” proposal might include bikeways, so  bicyclists on Cambridge Street could continue straight where the street bends left toward the first traffic light and then re-enter Cambridge Street by crossing Hampshire Street at the second traffic light rather than by turning left. (This would not be practical with the “bend Hampshire Street” proposal, because bicyclists would have to turn left across Hampshire Street to enter the blue space). The drawing below shows my proposal. Bicyclists would follow the red arrows.

Bend Cambridge Street proposal with shortcut bikeways

Bend Cambridge Street proposal with shortcut bikeways

The blue areas also might include useful social space — unlike the peanut roundabout proposal, where the extra space would be in the middle of the street.  The two traffic lights in the Bend Camridge Street proposal would, to be sure, increase delay for motorists. Bicyclists following the red-arrow route would encounter only one traffic light.

I’ll admit that I don’t have any more thoroughgoing answers to Inman Square’s problems other than the two I’ve already mentioned — tearing down buildings or creating a grade separation — which are not going to happen. I’ll be trying to think of other possibilities, and please, you do also.

August 9, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 163-164: August 9, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 163 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 164 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, August 9, 2016 at 6:00pm. [On YouTube]

References for tonight’s programs

June 29, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 151-152: June 28, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 151 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 152 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Much of the discussion in both episodes was motivated by the recent death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in Inman Square and the concurrent proposals by the City of Cambridge to modify the traffic patterns in Inman Square.

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